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When Jalen Neal got word that he would be called up to his first training camp with the men’s national soccer team, he was told to keep quiet until the roster was announced.

It was not a problem, he said.

“I told about my close family and stuff,” he said. “But otherwise, no. I’m pretty good with personal information.”

For his mother, Sarah, however, privacy was a big issue.

“It’s really…” he began. “It was difficult.”

It’s difficult because the call-up to the national team was as much a reward for the mother as it was for the son, a 19-year-old defender at the Galaxy. A tribute to the countless hours that Sarah Neal, a single soccer mom, spent driving her son to practices and tournaments. A reward for the weekends and holidays, the late nights and early mornings he devoted to football.

“Jaylen and I used to spend so much time together in the car eating dinner and doing homework. It just seems so exhausting,” she said. “But it was totally worth it.”

On Wednesday, Neal will have the opportunity to play his first game with the national team when the USA takes on Serbia in the first game of the 2026 World Cup at BMO Stadium. The U.S. will close out its weeklong January camp on Saturday by facing Colombia at Dignity Health Sports Park.

But Neal said the games are just a bonus.

“The playing time I’m getting doesn’t really get to me,” he said. “What I can get from training and just being around all these guys that I’ve met that have a lot more experience than me, just, you know, feeding off of them, they can be a huge benefit to my career.

“You just learn little professional tips, little things about taking care of your body, your mind. As a young guy, you see what these older guys go through off the field. And it makes you realize how many responsibilities I have in the future. Now you can only focus on football.”

Being called up to the first team has other perks, which Neil was only too happy to share, standing up during the Zoom call to model a blue Nike hoodie and a pair of black sweatpants that were part of the package he received when he received. camp opened last weekend.

“The benefits with the men’s team are a little different,” he said.

February 5, 2022 The Galaxy’s Jalen Neal has his shot blocked by Brad Knighton of the New England Revolution.

(Sean Clark/Getty Images)

Neal played his first game in the Long Beach County League when he was 3 years old. At age 5, he was playing with kids three years older, and his soccer IQ was off the charts, as he already understood how to pass the ball back to the goalkeeper for an attack. His teammates’ parents insisted he was on the wrong track, but in reality Neal’s football fundamentals were stronger than theirs before he even started the grade.

Neill joined the Galaxy’s academy at the age of 15 and played 48 games for the side’s USL Championship affiliate before making his debut for the first team in a US Open Cup match in May. He also helped the U.S. qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics, anchoring a defense that allowed just two goals in seven games to win the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship last summer. That performance earned him selection to the all-tournament team.

It also convinced coach Greg Vanney that Neal is ready to take on a much bigger role with the Galaxy this season.

“This is going to be the year that Jalen Neal has to step up and give us some depth and growth,” he said. “Jaylen is ready to start breaking into the first team.”

Neil has been immersed in the sports environment his entire life. Older brother Mark, 24, is a semi-pro football player, while his younger brother and sister play basketball and soccer, and their mother dutifully takes them to practices and games.

“My two little ones, they grew up on the football field, literally [since] coming home from the hospital,” said Sarah.

They will be together as a family on another football field Wednesday when Nils heads to BMO Stadium. Whether Jalen plays or not won’t dampen the excitement.

“Just seeing him in the warm-up is enough for me,” Sarah said. “I’ll be there crying.”

However, there is one problem.

“We got tickets, but we didn’t stop,” he said. “The game, I’m not even nervous [it]. I’m more nervous about parking.”

Soccer moms. They think about everything.


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